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Don’t scare clients off

There’s no disputing the quality of service offered by kitchen studios, but why are so many people put off going to them and choosing to use a builder or interior designer instead? Angela Stack, sales manager at worktop fabricator Counter Production, suggests some ways to get over this.

Kitchens of today are almost unrecognisable from their historical counterparts. What was once a small room hidden away at the back of the house, the kitchen is now an important feature of the home.

The modern kitchen has increasingly become the central hub where people gather to eat, relax and socialise. Mechanical, operational and social are the Three Musketeers of kitchen design. This much we already know.

A recent survey suggested that a quarter of home buyers would be put off by a small kitchen with a poorly designed layout and lack of light. This surely should give plenty of scope for new kitchen sales. You would think so, but where will they be buying them?

Coming from a worktop manufacturing background, we are uniquely placed to see the kitchen industry as a whole, albeit through the prism of our worktops. Over the past 30 years, we can track the ebb and flow of business, people and fashions. Where once our business came from the traditional studio network, now the route to market is less well defined.

Not all kitchens are sold through kitchen studios and, where I sit, it doesn’t seem as if the studios are going to be getting these customers back anytime soon.

Builders

Builders are having a bigger influence than ever before. A builders merchant kitchen may not cut the mustard from a creative design point of view, with all the fancy bells and whistles and stylish features, but they are not the fastest-growing sector for nothing.

Like builder’s tea, it satisfies a thirst rather than a desire and I have seen such kitchens go into some very high-value new homes. Builders can hold a great deal of sway over the decision-making process, where the owner is prepared to leave design decisions to the builder, rather than call in a professional kitchen designer.

The same goes for the bathrooms. Frankly, most builders only know what they know from what they have done before. Imagination and creativity is not something particularly high up on their agenda.

How often do studios host an open evening for builders and show them what they can really do? They need to build on that relationship.

Higher-profile customers may use interior designers, which is another route that some customers take, rather than go to a studio. Although they score very high on the creative scale, often their technical knowledge is not very deep. They don’t sell kitchens every day, and have an expectation that everyone else will sort out any problems. Notwithstanding, it will look beautiful – eventually.

Joiners also are making bigger inroads into kitchen sales. To a degree, they have always had a niche market, particularly in more desirable rural areas, but be aware that they have very full order books. If not spectacularly long lead times, too.

I have visited many studios over the years and one constant complaint is always to do with footfall: too little; too much; not at the right time. Given the consumer’s ability to replicate the shopping habits of lemmings, this is what life is for the bricks-and-mortar retailer. Get over it, get out, or do something about it. It’s easier said than done, so how do you get people to even step through the door?

Kitchen studios can be victims of their own image. We expect studios to have beautiful, shiny displays, elegantly dressed and to be first-class examples of their workmanship, but how much of this actually inhibits potential customers. How often do they think that this is not for them and a feeling of entrapment and ever spiralling costs worries them so much that they can’t make this first step across the threshold? How is it that this same customer would have no issue with going into a top-marque car showroom, equally displaying its wares in a similar shiny setting, with a not dissimilar budget?

So what makes a customer confident about going into a car showroom to make a major purchase and yet hesitate before going into a kitchen studio? Two things stand out in my mind, one is that they can see the cost of a new car, whereas a studio has to calculate the cost for a new kitchen.

Finance

The other is financing. More could be done in studios to make costing more transparent and more could be done to facilitate the spend.

After all, the industry has been talking about this for some years now. While I don’t know if the finance models are suitable or need serious adjustment, if it has worked for the car industry, and a few forward-thinking studios, then surely greater minds than mine can make it work for the kitchen industry.

Do you ever hear a customer in a car showroom say they liked the car and would be happy to take it, but could they leave out the wheels, or the engine, because they could get them cheaper elsewhere?

A kitchen studio should be selling a distillation of knowledge, experience and quality product, backed by excellent fitting teams, good design, excellent customer service and trusted supply chain. Good kitchen studios sell the value of what they do.

The increase in and diversity of players in the kitchen market is definitely causing a schism within the industry. Despite pressure from the internet and consumers themselves, kitchen studios should stand by what they sell with a greater degree of confidence. Yes, they are under threat from all directions, but they must believe in themselves.

Be bold, be brave and good luck.

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